The bell has sounded for round three and the battle has begun to score a knockout and bring Burlington into the 21st century of the sports and entertainment world.
In the early 1980s Burlington’s major ice users approached city council with a plan to build a large arena that could accommodate a minor pro or major junior hockey club, as well as concerts and figure skating competitions. The City, not wanting to upset taxpayers, settled for the twin-pad Mainway Arena.
Then four years ago when discussions were taking place about the Hamilton Tiger-Cats building a new football stadium in Burlington, the topic came up again.
A consortium, headed by businessman Angelo Paletta, talked about constructing a complex that would include a stadium, a 9,000-seat arena, a hotel and an office building. But in the end the Cats decided to stay in Hamilton
Now Tim Wilson owner of Mighty Expedite, a freight shipping company, has created a website and posted a survey asking citizens to indicate their interest in a new 5,000-seat arena and pursuing an Ontario Hockey League franchise.
Wilson said he knows of two individuals with very deep pockets who are willing to put up the money for a new facility. He said he can’t reveal their names at this point, but did say one of them is from Burlington.
Wilson said he attended a meeting of Burlington ice users and 95 per cent of them were in favor of having a new facility.
Mayor Rick Goldring has said a new arena of that magnitude is not in the City’s plans. However, Wilson said he is hopeful the City would be involved at some level, perhaps with the addition of a multi-pad ice surface.
Wilson, who moved to Burlington from Montreal in 1991, also is head coach of the Burlington Eagles Minor Peewee AA team, which plays in the Tri-County Minor Hockey League.
“Right now we need help getting the message out,” Wilson said. “Our goal is to get a minimum of 2,000 season-ticket commitments. We have to get the numbers to bring to the investors.”
So far he has 533 season ticket commitments and about 40 requests for private suites. In addition, there have been almost 5,000 hits on the actual survey. No money has been attached to the ticket commitments, however, and Wilson said they are not binding.
Wilson is encouraging anybody interested to check out the website at www.ohl2burlington.ca. The twitter handle is hockeytownburlington
He is looking at a piece of land located in Aldershot, bordered on the north by Hwy. 403, on the east by King Road and the west by the Aldershot GO train station. The land in question is privately owned by the Paletta International Corporation. It is currently zoned for employment lands and a 9,000-seat arena.
Wilson said he has not yet talked to the Ontario Hockey League about the proposal, but pointed out some teams in the league are having difficulty drawing fans. The Erie (Pa.) Otters are for sale and the Plymouth (MI) Whalers recently announced plans to move to Flint.
He said he can see the Burlilngton Cougars, who play in the lower tier Ontario Junior Hockey League, and a new OHL club co-existing and hopes the Cougars also would play out of the new building.
“I love our city,” Wilson said. “I’ve been a coach for six years. There are lots of cities smaller than ours’ that have better hockey and concert facilities then we do.”
Former NHLer Ron Sedlbauer, who is President of the Cougars, said nobody has contacted him but the club would always be interested in a better alternative to what it has now at the tiny Appleby Arena, which can accommodate only about 1,200 people.
The Cougars used to play at Central Arena, which has seating for just 1,700. The largest crowd ever there was a standing room only 2,300 to see a nine-year- old Wayne Gretzky play for Brantford in the 1970 Golden Horseshoe Tournament..Most of those people were standing or hanging from the rafters.
“But our program is more about providing kids an opportunity for scouts to see them play and get scholarships, so it doesn’t matter if anybody’s watching,” Sedlbauer said.
Mark Ellis, executive director of the Ontario Hockey Association, said the Cougars would not have to give their approval or be entitled to any financial compensation if an OHL club decided to locate here.
When the City was planning to build Mainway Arena in 1983 Bob Moulton, past president of the Burlington Lions Optimist Minor Hockey Association, told council, “500 seats is 1970s thinking.”
St. Catharines, with a population of 132,000 – smaller than Burlington – is the latest community to open a new facility, the Meridian Centre, which has room for 5,300 fans and is the home of the Niagara IceDogs of the OHL.
In the early 1950s the Cougars’ predecessor, the Burlington Mohawks were affiliated with the Detroit Red Wings and played in the Central Ontario Junior B League. After that, while playing in the Niagara District Junior B League, the club became a farm club of the New York Rangers.
Sherry Bassin, GM of the Otters, said he hasn’t heard anything about the website. In any case, he added, completion of a new arena might be four or five years away.
“That’s of no concern to me right now,” he said. “I’m 75 years old, our team is for sale, I am talking to interested buyers and that is all I’m doing.”